At Pietra Santa Winery, the top-of-the-line wines carry the name Vache on their labels.
Pietra Santa is located in California’s Cienega Valley, part of the Gabilan Mountains foothills, some 25 miles east of Monterey Bay. The estate was first developed during the 1850s by a Frenchman named Theophile Vache, who hailed from the island of Oleron, off France’s Atlantic coast.
That effort grew into an enterprise known as Valliant Vineyards, and earned Vache a permanent place among the recognized pioneers of the California wine industry. The area became known as the “Vineyard District” of San Benito County.
The Vache family later ventured south, and developed the Brookside Vineyard Company in the area today known as Ontario. For many years, Brookside supplied local farmers and other residents with wine that was siphoned right out of the barrels and into big jugs.
Fast-forward to 1909, and the birth of Philo Biane at the Brookside Winery. Biane was the great-grand-nephew of Theophile Vache, and was seemingly destined to follow the family’s long-established winemaking tradition.
Biane rose to the position of President of Brookside Vineyard Company when it was located in the nearby town of Guasti, and spent his entire life in winemaking.
In fact, even during his retirement, he couldn’t shake the winemaking bug. He established another winery, called Rancho de Philo, in the town of Alta Loma, and crafted very small quantities of Cream Sherry, using the traditional solera system of blending multiple vintages.
Biane died in 1999, but his daughter, Janine Tibbets, carries on the venture. Rancho de Philo operates year-round, as the various vintages must be monitored, but it is open to the public only one week each year, during November. That’s all the time it takes for an entire year’s allotment to be sold to and picked up by an adoring public of mostly long-time customers.
Theophile Vache will always be remembered for his contribution to California winemaking, and now Janine Tibbets embraces a labor of love to maintain the family’s connection to history, even as housing developments slowly plow under her sources of grapes.